The Devil’s Double gone 1/2/2014; when biographies meet fiction

The Devil's Double (2011) Poster

So I’ve been looking through my instant queue of nearly 400 titles, and the only ones that seem to be disappearing soon are animated straight to video style movies from DC (featuring Superman and Batman, etc.). Those titles will be gone December 17. When I was randomly looking thru new titles, I stumbled across The Devil’s Double (2011), which I saw in the theater.

This movie belongs to a genre that needs a name- a film based on a true story, but has a lot of fictional elements thrown in to fill in a story, or add intrigue. Maybe it could be called “a truthy story” to borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert. Or maybe it could be called a biofic(tion). A perfect example of this type of movie is The Last King of Scotland (2006), which featured fine performances by Forest Whitaker playing the real life tyrant Idi Amin, and James McAvoy playing a completely fictional character. I liked the movie (7 out of 10 on IMDB), but it couldn’t really make it to greatness in my mind. It was a strange juxtaposition for me, the portrayal of an African leader who terrorized and killed his countrymen in real life, threatening a white person created by a screenwriter (perhaps to give the audience a person to relate to, which is not necessary if you’ve seen Hotel Rwanda (2004)). The next film I can think of to present fiction as biography is The Social Network (2010), which worked for me, perhaps because it went all out in taking a stance on the tight-lipped Zuckerberg. It probably wasn’t the whole truth, but it felt like the truth. The latest DVD that I got from Netflix was The Iron Lady (2011), which also had to fill in some blanks that weren’t in the history books. Perhaps to its detriment, the film spends a lot of time with the older Margaret Thatcher, who suffered in private from dementia.

The Devil’s Double follows this format, telling the story of an Iraqi who is forced to become Uday Hussein’s body double because of his physical similarity to the dictator’s son. While this story is based on the real-life body doubles used by Saddam Hussein and his sons, a large part of the film is fictionalized, and a lot of it felt fake or forced, like the action was being ramped up at the expense of suspense. Both positive and negative reviews I’ve read online highlight how much it tries to be like Scarface, which is not really a prime example of restrained storytelling. Lee Tamahori directed the film, and he doesn’t have the best track record with me. Like many of his movies, it was a bit of a mess and over the top. Dominic Cooper does a fair job playing the dual roles, and Ludivine Sagnier plays their love interest effectively. There was still enough entertaining moments here to warrant a 6 out of 10 on IMDB for me. I still feel like there’s a far better movie waiting to be made about this intriguing subject.

If anyone reading this knows of any other biopics that rely alot on the scriptwriter’s imagination, let me know (especially if they are on Netflix Instant). Tomorrow I’ll have a review of what I think is an overlooked, underrated, and misunderstood documentary.

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